In ancient Egypt many tomb paintings have survived of a mysterious funerary ceremony known as "the Opening of the Mouth". In these paintings the officiating priest is depicted as the jackal-headed god Anubis, inserting an adze or other implement into the mouth of the mummified body of the deceased – who in this form was identified with the god Osiris. The ritual was based on a myth, having several meanings. The jackal is a scavenging animal, feeding on the dead, and provides an apt symbol for the opening of tombs.
Anubis not only opens the mouth of Osiris as the mummy. He also opens the mouth of Osiris as the underworld. Osiris’s mouth symbolizes the "jaws of death", the entrance to the underworld. In this sense Anubis is the Conductor of Souls, like the Ferryman Charon of Greek myth. Indeed, in his manifestation as Upuaut, "the Opener of the Ways", he is the ferryman of the solar barque.
Anubis is the Faithful Dog that guards the tomb of Osiris. As guardian of this entrance, he prevents the curious adventurer from stumbling across the treasure within. He protects against theft by obscuring the location of the entrance, but at the same time his nature hides an astronomical code that can be cracked to reveal a location on the ground.
Anubis and Upuaut
Anubis as Upuaut, the "Opener of the Ways", may be so called because he sits at the prow of the celestial barque, cutting through the waters of the night. The name Anubis is itself related to the name Upuaut. Upuaut was originally Up-Uat, meaning Opener of the Waters, the Uat being the waters, the well-watered field, the marsh, the field of reeds, the oasis, the land of plenty, the Elysian fields of the afterlife, all metaphors of the starry sky. Up-Uat was the Opener of the Sky.
Specifically, the watery fields were that part of the sky that was permanent, the circumpolar stars. Up-Uat is the Opener of the polar region of the sky. Anubis is originally An-Up, meaning Fish-Opener. We sometimes see the fish as part of Anubis’ name in hieroglyphics. This refers to the fish from whose mouth the waters of creation were said to have flowed. Anup may originally have been Nup, a form of Nu-Up, meaning Water-Opener or Sky-Opener. So An means fish, the produce of the waters, life in abundance, and means the same as Uat. In Sanskrit, oddly enough, anupa means "a watery country".
The mound of earth at the beginning of creation opens the Uat, the waters. The land of the waters is the Ta-Uat, or Tuat. The land in the waters is the island in the sky, the mound in the sky, the mountain in the sky, the topmost part of the sky, that is – in ancient astronomical code language – the celestial pole.
The Zodiac of Denderah
The jackal is a very quick animal. The mythologist would recognize it as a Trickster figure. For example, the Coyote plays a prominent role in North American Indian mythology. Ordinarily the zootype would apply to a quickly moving celestial object, such as the Moon or Mercury. But in the iconography that is of interest to us, the jackal is not moving at all. This is very curious. The jackal is at his resting-place, at the mount of heaven, like Zeus at the top of Mt Olympus. Of course it is the celestial pole. So Anubis must be either the celestial pole, or a constellation at the pole.
The iconography I am talking about is the Denderah Zodiac. As Graham Hancock states in Heaven’s Mirror (page 61), the Zodiac of Denderah appears to have been set out according to a map of the sky from about 4000 BC, and it shows Anubis the Jackal as the constellation Ursa Minor. Apparently Anubis has been associated with Ursa Minor all through Egyptian history. (Ursa Minor is sometimes called the Dog of Set to confuse us.) The depiction of Ursa Minor as a Jackal led the Greeks to identify Ursa Minor with a dog or wolf (as in the myth of King Lycaon and his son Arcas). Hence one of their names for Polaris was Cynosura, the Dog’s Tail.
Anubis as A Polar Constellation
The adze that Anubis puts into the mouth of Osiris is Ursa Minor, as Borchardt claimed, not Ursa Major as other Egyptologists have claimed. None of the stars of Ursa Major were ever pole stars. I cannot understand this fascination with Ursa Major. (It is a blind that attracts the blind!)
Another object that Anubis inserts into the mouth is the fishtail knife. Astro-mythologically, the fishtail knife is the same as the adze – Ursa Minor. Called the pesesh-kef, it was like two curved slicers joined together. The priest stood over the mummy and ritually broke the knife in two and inserted the two slicers or mini-adzes inside the wrappings of the mummy. In the mythology, Anubis, Upuaut or a "Son of Horus" uses the double-knife as a wedge, or the adze (as a single knife), to prize open the mouth of Osiris.
These two slicers may represent the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) and Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) which surround the north celestial pole. (The pesesh-kef was found in the Queen’s Chamber northern airshaft, which is pointed at the culmination point of Kochab in 2450 BCE. Kochab is a bright star in Ursa Minor.) These two adzes in the sky so closely resemble each other that they were regarded as the Twins of heaven. At various times they have been thought of as two bears, two ‘dippers’, two ploughs, two wagons, twin brothers, etc. The "fishtail" flint knife was carried over from the Archaic and Old Kingdom pesesh-kef wand and it was normally attached to a staff.
Wands, staffs and poles are emblems of royalty, and they symbolize the place at which the King of Heaven sits – the celestial pole, because the sky revolves around this point.
Anubis’ was sceptre, like other staffs, wands and poles, is emblematic of the World Axis. The World Axis isn’t the axis of the world at all. It is of course the axis of the sky, the celestial pole. The tip of the was sceptre resembles the "backbone" or arc of Ursa Minor. At other times it resembles a jackal’s head, but the jackal’s head is made in the shape of the arc of Ursa Minor.
The World Axis is also depicted in many other traditions as the Tree of Life that extends from the navel of the world to the Throne of God in the sky. The Djed column, known as the backbone of Osiris, is another figure of the World Axis, the celestial pole. The four bars that cross the column represent the four colures.
The adze is a token of Anubis. Both the adze and Anubis signify Ursa Minor.
Anubis on His Mount
Anubis is often referred to in the Book of the Dead as being "on his mount". When the Jackal is on his Mount, Ursa Minor is at rest, at the celestial pole.
The mount, or mound, is a pedestal that has been taken as a figure of the Hall of Records. (Note that the Sphinx is sometimes depicted sitting on his/her mount.)
The mount is also a figure of the celestial pole, as it is in the mythologies of other races. For example, Mt Meru in the Hindu tradition is a figure of the celestial pole. This mount is also the first mound of creation, emerging from the waters and covered in grass. It is therefore the same as the Uat or Tuat, the field of reeds.
We have seen from the Zodiac of Denderah that Anubis is Ursa Minor. "Anubis on his mount" is therefore Ursa Minor at the celestial pole.
The Great Pyramid is another figure of the first mound of creation, on top of which the heron or phoenix rests. The long beak of the heron is a figure of the celestial pole.
The heron on his mound is the same as "Atum on his Mound". Thus the heron is the bird at the beginning of all time, when the first piece of land, the mound, arose out of the waters. Later, the heron becomes the ibis as the celestial pole approaches Ursa Minor. Astronomically, the curve of Ursa Minor is the beak of the Ibis. The heron, or ibis, perching on his mound, with fish in his mouth, drawing it out of the waters, is Ursa Minor.
Anubis, as a Jackal-God, is the spirit guide of Osiris through the Underworld, guiding him from "his mount on high". It could be said, then, that the constellation Ursa Minor guides the constellation of Orion from on high as Orion journeys into the Underworld.
The feather is another representation of Ursa Minor as the pole constellation. The feather in turn is a pen, which is a symbol of Thoth or Seshat. Seshat is figured with a seven-pointed star above her head. This means seven stars, and represents the seven stars of Ursa Minor.
The Shamanic Ascent to the Pole
In shamanic traditions the world over the destination of the shaman was the celestial pole. Among the Siberian shamans, for example, the sky was imaged as a tent, and the celestial pole was the pole supporting the sky-tent, or the nail that kept the sky-tent in place. In modern shamanism, the imagery of the pole has fused with that of the pole star Polaris, so we cannot be sure whether it is the pole itself or the nearest star that holds up the sky. In any case, the celestial pole was thought of as an opening in the sky.
The celestial pole is the object of the shaman’s ascent in all mythologies, not Orion’s Belt. Since the priests were shamans, they climbed the ladder or stairs to the polar region of the sky, rather than to a non-polar or southern destination. Alnitak was certainly a non-polar destination.
The Great Pyramid is a model of the heavens too. The summit is the celestial pole and the four corners are the four colures. By ascending the Great Pyramid to its summit, the priest was ascending to the top of heaven, the celestial pole.
The Djed column is another figure of the ladder by which the shaman-priest ascended to the celestial pole. The four crossbars, or rungs of the ladder, are the four colures, which come together at the pole. Sometimes the Ladder is depicted with seven rungs. These may represent the seven stars of the polar constellation, Ursa Minor.
The four crossed oars sometimes seen in the celestial barque symbolize the four colures, crossing at the pole. There are actually two barques – Mandet, the day barque and Mesktet, the night barque. The night barque is Ursa Minor. Sometimes the staircase is seen in the boat in the position of the mast. The mast of the boat and the staircase are both symbols of the pole. The socket of the mast, the aker, is a figure of the hole or opening at the centre of the sky, the celestial pole. Another interpretation is that the two oars sticking out are the two stars sticking out from the arc of five stars: Pherkad and ηUMi.
This is the boat that sails in the Elysian Fields or Uat/Duat. The destination of the barque, its final resting-place if you will, is the pole. In the funerary context, the pole is the final resting-place of the soul of the deceased king. In the shamanic context, the pole is the destination of the journey of the shaman-priest.
Ursa Minor has been the pole constellation since 1300 BC. The movement of the pole from Draco to Ursa Minor occurs about then. In the iconography, this is Set slaying the Apep monster, or Horus or Upuaut defeating the dragon from the prow of the celestial boat. The keel of the boat represents the crescent formed by the five stars in the "backbone" of Ursa Minor. The five gods sometimes seen in the boat may be these five stars, with Kochab at the prow and Polaris at the stern.
In 1300 BC, during the reign of King Seti I, there were three pole stars – Thuban, Kochab and Kappa Draconis. These three stars form an equilateral triangle in the northern sky, and in 1300 BC, the celestial pole was situated in the middle of this equilateral triangle. I believe this is the meaning of the equilateral triangle that appears in the apron of the priest in depictions from the time of Seti I. This triangular apron is the basis of the triangular Masonic apron which is plainly stellar in representation. It is only fair to mention that Sirius, Procyon and Betelgeuse also form an equilateral triangle in the southern sky.
The Pyramid Texts and the Circumpolar Stars
The Pyramid texts tell us about the shamanic journey of King Unas. They tell us quite plainly that King Unas ascends to the imperishable stars. This may be a reference to the shamanic journey of Unas as well as his journey in death.
"He comes to thee, O his father." (Utt.222, Sp.201)
"The Father of Unas, Atum, seizes the arm of Unas and he assigns Unas to … the imperishable stars." (Pyr. Texts, utt.269, sp.380.)
These imperishable stars are the circumpolar stars. The Pyramid Texts also tell us repeatedly that "this Unas has not died". This is another way of saying that Unas has ascended to the circumpolar stars.
The Hot and the Cool
The Pyramid Texts also call the polar stars "cool", to distinguish them from the non-polar stars which are "hot" because they are closer to the path of the Sun, the ecliptic. Just as the hot desert Sun rules the day, so the cool celestial pole rules the night.
"Thou art to purify thyself with the cool water of the circumpolar stars." (Utt.214, Sp.138)
"Mayest thou grant that this Unas seize the Cool Region." (Utt.222, Sp.202)
"Cool it is for thee in the embrace of thy father, in the embrace of Atum." (Utt.222, Sp.212)
Under these circumstances, Atum is not a figure of the Sun but of the celestial pole.
The "hot" stars that come under the influence of the Sun are called the "sun-folk": "The sun-folk shall call out to you, for the circumpolar stars have raised you aloft." (Spells 138-139)
It is the circumpolar stars that raise the king up. Raising up means becoming a never-setting star. When the star first becomes immortal, its heliacal rising occurs on the northern meridian. The raising up is more than just becoming circumpolar. The shaman-priest wants to be raised to the pole itself. He wants to be a pole star.
The sun-folk could be either the ecliptic or equatorial constellations. Both are non-polar. These constellations are calling out to Unas because Unas has left them. He has left the southern non-polar stars to join the northern circumpolar stars.
Immortal and Mortal Stars
Let us be more specific about the distinction between these two types of stars. The Pyramid Texts distinguish between the circumpolar stars which are considered immortal or imperishable, because they do not descend below the horizon, and the non-polar stars which are considered mortal, because they set and enter the Underworld, the Land of the Dead.
The cycle of the mortal stars is a metaphor of the reincarnation of the soul. But as in Buddhism, the ultimate aim is to escape the cycle of incarnation and to become immortal like the never-setting stars.
The relationship between the immortal and the mortal stars is reflected in the relationship between Anubis and Osiris. Anubis is immortal because he represents Ursa Minor. Osiris is mortal because he represents Orion’s Belt. Orion’s Belt may have taken on even more significance in this context. Knowing of the precession of the pole, the priests would have known that Orion’s Belt takes up a position on the celestial equator, precisely at that era when Polaris in the constellation of Anubis took up its position at the celestial pole.
The doctrine of the mortal and immortal twins is widespread. For example, it occurs in the Zoroastrian tradition as the pair Yima and Mithras. In Greek mythology, it is Castor and Pollux, who are constellated in the sky as the two brightest stars in Gemini. The myth of Castor and Pollux does not belong to Gemini. The myth of the mortal and immortal twins is about circumpolar and non-polar stars. The myth of Castor and Pollux shows how an ancient Egyptian myth of duality in the sky can be constellated into a single constellation in a seemingly unrelated part of the sky.
The Hall of the Gods
Finally the deceased (or shaman) comes to the Hall of the Gods for the Weighing of the Heart ceremony. It is here that the decision is made, by these gods of the pole, as to whether the deceased (or shaman) becomes a circumpolar star or a non-polar star – whether he is raised up to his father who is in heaven, Atum, or is given over to the throne of Osiris, the Lord of the Underworld, there to be devoured by the darkness.
Polar Triad Correlation Theory
In summary, here is my case for Anubis. Anubis is Ursa Minor. His resting-place is a mount, which is the celestial pole. The king, as a shaman-priest, must ascend to the pole, which is an opening in the sky. By the Hermetic principle, the World Axis or Tree (or Ladder of Isis, or Djed Column) joins the north celestial pole, the opening in the sky, with the opening in the earth, which is a figure of an entrance to the Hall of Records. So, to find this entrance, one finds a point on the ground that corresponds to the celestial pole.
We are restricted at this point by the Orion Correlation theory, which says that the three pyramids on the ground correspond to the three stars of Orion’s Belt. But I have shown that the polar constellations, and Ursa Minor specifically, were the destination of the soul of the shaman-priest. I make the bold hypothesis here that the three pyramids correspond to three stars in the polar region of the sky. If we find a triad of polar stars that correspond in configuration to the three pyramids, then the celestial pole might correspond to an opening to the Hall of the Gods on the ground.
But here’s the rub! The celestial pole is not a fixed point. It moves over the centuries. So, which epoch do we choose? I shall not answer this question here as it is quite an involved argument. Instead let me raise the possibility of there being three stars in the polar region of the sky which may correspond to the three pyramids. I shall call this the Polar Triad Correlation Theory.
Which polar triad is the correct one? There are seven polar triads that I have examined:
- Merak-Dubhe-lambda Draconis
Each of these correlations has its virtues, and some have their drawbacks. All I want to suggest for now is that these are the sorts of correlations that must be researched if we are to unearth the Hall of Records.
The Modern Drama
I do not wish any of this to supplant the Orion Correlation Theory, or more correctly put, the Orion’s Belt Correlation Theory. Both the equatorial constellations (the sun-folk – to which Orion belongs) and the polar constellations, to which Ursa Minor belongs, play a part in the astronomical mythology. Anubis and Osiris together make up the astronomical drama that is represented in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. This drama is acting out now, as Orion’s Belt (the phallus, girdle or umbilicus of Osiris) crosses the equator, and Polaris (the tail of Anubis) approaches the pole position.
Is this the raising up of Osiris by Anubis, his faithful companion?